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In lifted 4WD trucks using much larger tires, owners say they often see a decrease in fuel economy. This leads me to wonder, how does tire size (specifically, outside diameter) affect efficiency?

In my way of thinking, a wheel/tire having a larger OD than stock would result in fewer engine RPMs at a given speed (say 60mph). Conversely, using a wheel/tire having a smaller OD than stock would increase engine RPMs at the same speed, thereby leading to more fuel consumption.

Am I on track?

  • There is a sweet spot on diameter. If you go to small, you lose fuel economy as well. – finleyarcher Feb 21 '18 at 2:00
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It's got to do with physics.

A larger, heavier wheel equates to more rotating inertia, unsprung mass and rolling resistance that the engine has to work against during acceleration.

More work → more load → more fuel.


Breakdown of the effects

  • The rotating inertia and mass of a tire is:

    • linearly proportional to its width
    • proportional to the square of its outer diameter
  • Rolling resistance will increase with a tire's weight.

  • Larger wheels increase the frontal area of the vehicle, increasing the drag forces that the engine has to work against. Also, higher ground clearance caused by larger wheel diameter increases air vortices below the car, causing a higher coefficient of air resistance.


While it is true that the outer diameter affects engine RPM at any given speed (and gear), the impact on fuel economy is secondary to the impact of change in inertia. See this question on brake-specific fuel consumption BSFC for more information.

  • Increased unsprung weight will get you. Especially rolling resistance with a special off-road tire that has much thicker rubber and a lot more tread than other tires. – CharlieRB Feb 19 '18 at 19:50
  • @CharlieRB those are valid points. I've added them to the answer, thanks for that – Zaid Feb 19 '18 at 19:55
  • Could you then offset with a lighter Al wheel with larger rim diameter (thus, using potentially LESS rubber)? – a coder Feb 19 '18 at 20:25
  • As part of the physics : think of the increase in frontal area and drag... – Solar Mike Feb 19 '18 at 22:15
  • @SolarMike very true, added to the answer. – Zaid Feb 20 '18 at 19:52

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